Burke on prowl for a goalie
'It is something we have to explore'
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs goaltenders James Reimer (left) and Jonas Gustavsson share a laugh during practice at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 22, 2012. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - If he can make a deal to acquire a goaltender to help the Maple Leafs immediately, general manager Brian Burke sounds like he will pull the trigger.
In an interview on TSN Radio on Wednesday night, Burke said there is no offer on the table for Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash.
But goaltending? Burke acknowledged he will explore trade possibilities before the National Hockey League deadline hits on Monday.
“We have not been dabbling in that market,” Burke said. “But certainly, it is something we have to explore and find out what the price tags are. The primary thinking is if we decide to go after a goaltender, it is a guy who can help us right now.”
Burke had just finished saying that the play of Jonas Gustavsson “has saved our season.” But Burke was referring to Gustavsson stepping into the void when James Reimer was hurt in October and then in January when Reimer was struggling.
The goaltending of both has been below standards for some time now, however, and it has become clear that neither can be relied upon to carry the Leafs into the playoffs and beyond. Put it this way — the Leafs have 22 games remaining, and if they were clear contenders, there would be no questions about the identity of the No. 1 guy.
But coach Ron Wilson couldn’t name his starter for the home game against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday (it has to be Reimer, no?).
Among those Burke undoubtedly will investigate are Evgeni Nabokov of the New York Islanders, Nikolai Khabibulin of the Edmonton Oilers, Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild, Anders Lindback of the Nashville Predators and former Leaf Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Colorado Avalanche.
So dire is the situation that goaltending consultant Francois Allaire held court with the media for 10 minutes on Wednesday, trying to explain the Leafs’ goaltending picture.
“We need somebody to take the lead and after that everybody will follow,” Allaire said. “We are not at that point right now. We are coming, but we are not at that point.
“We are trying to be really positive. When you look at games played (between the two), we don’t have more than (160). So we have to be positive. We have to ask them to keep going, working no matter what. The guys are responding really well. I don’t have an issue with the way they work, the way they try. But it is not always easy for a kid who does not have a lot of experience in the league to say, okay, I have to go for three or four good games in a row.”
Reimer and Gustavsson had only good things to say about Allaire. There is little room for error in Allaire’s world, where positional play is key. Moving around the crease a la Tim Thomas or Dominik Hasek? Forget it.
“Frankie breaks down the game in a way that makes it simpler and easier for you, so if the puck is in a certain area of the ice you know what you are supposed to be doing,” Reimer said. “He makes things black and white. As a goalie, that is what you want. If the puck is in this area, then you have to make this move. Practise the same way every day. Repetition and doing things properly. He simplifies the game.”
Gustavsson, who was said to be at odds last summer with Allaire, concurred for the most part.
“It was more about changing the style to NHL hockey than changing it to Francois,” Gustavsson said. “It is not always easy to keep it simple. Keep it simple means to play in the perfect position all the time. That is something you work on with more experience.”
This would all be moot if Burke trades for a goalie. Gustavsson’s shoddy performance against New Jersey apparently was the last straw.
“It’s very hard to watch to what happened and not wonder if we have enough,” Burke said. “I have no answer for that. There were three goals that went in that have to stay out. Yes, he made some stellar saves around those goals, but the winning goal was going wide.
“I am not sure we are not going to be in the goaltending market before we are done.”